FLORENCE, S.C. – All 4 Autism executive director Jessica Brown is on a mission in the Pee Dee region to bring resources and support to those affected by autism.
Nearly 12 years ago, Brown received an autism diagnosis for her son, Jack, which she thought would be the easiest part of the process.
“I thought, 'OK, we have a name for this; it’s autism,'” Brown said. “Now we’re going to get him what he needs. We’re going to get him all that he needs – not realizing that that was going to be absolutely the hardest part of the journey.’”
Brown said she sought out resources for her son, but to no avail — there weren’t any local resources. She said there are affiliates of the autism society and family connections in Greenville, Charleston, Myrtle Beach and Columbia, but there were no affiliates in Florence.
“For whatever reason, this region, our region, the Pee Dee region, has been kind of just left out of support and services,” Brown said.
Brown said she spent months of trial and error trying to get all of her son’s evaluations completed and to get supports in place for her son.
Brown, who has always worked in the nonprofit sector, said after her experience trying to find resources and support for her son, she wanted to use her experience to help families affected by autism in the Pee Dee region.
To start off, Brown began a Bible study for mothers who have children with disabilities.
The group consisted of seven mothers, and that is where Brown met Amy Pennington, who had recently started the 5K Pacing for Pieces to raise awareness for autism and to raise money for local families affected by it.
Brown reached out to Pennington to see if she would be her partner to open the autism resource center. That was the start of All 4 Autism.
The resource center began on April 25, 2017, and it has been providing services and supports for all members of families who are affected by autism.
For the past two years, All 4 Autism has been providing supports for families affected by autism.
The resource center helps connect families to places to get assessments done and advocates for students in the school system. It also provides support groups for caregivers and siblings, Brown said.
The camp has also started Camp St. John, an inclusive camp for students with autism and typical students, Brown said.
The camp exposes students to activities such as robotics and hip-hop class, and it allows students with autism to create friendships and form bonds with one another. Brown said the camp may provide children with relationship and friendship for the first time.
“We are very proud of that camp,” Brown said. “That’s our ultimate goal — that they get that true camp experience that they would otherwise miss out on.”
All 4 Autism provides resources for families based on what the need is, Brown said. When a family comes to the resource center with a need, Brown said the resource center tries to meet the need of that particular family.
Brown said she cannot believe what they’ve been able to accomplish over the past two years with All 4 Autism.
“It’s been hard work, but I’m so glad that it’s working,” Brown said. “I’m so glad that people are reaching out to us and that we feel like we are helping to make a difference. That’s why we do what we do, and we’ll do it as long as it’s a need.”
Brown said the the organization has had a successful two years, and there’s no telling where the organization will go in the future.
“We never thought that we would be able to do as much as we have in the last two years,” Brown said. "What we have in store for us two years from here, we don’t know, but we are so thankful to our community partners that have believed in us, supported us and encouraged us.”